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Target Denial Sign 2©I took this photo of a roadside sign next to a benign-looking creek near my home because it reminded me of the one of the most important skills we teach in Kidpower, which is to move away from trouble.

Inertia – the tendency to stay put if we are still or to keep going in the same direction if we are moving – sometimes gets in the way of our safety! And too often, people get hurt physically or emotionally by staying in or blundering into an upsetting or dangerous situation because they are unwilling to leave or change their path.

Sometimes we introduce this skill with a small joke by saying, “We are going to practice the best self-defense technique of all time, handed down from martial artist to martial artist through the ages, called ‘Target Denial’ – which means denying your body as a target by avoiding a person or situation that might harm you – or, in other words, ‘Don’t Be There!'”

We ask students to imagine a situation relevant to their lives such as waiting in line, walking somewhere, playing a game, or being in an audience next to someone who starts being aggressive or who they know might cause trouble. And then we act this situation out, coaching them to leave with awareness, calm, and respectful confidence, so that they act as if they are paying attention without seeming worried or scared and without challenging the other person.

One simple way to practice is to put a sign with the word “Trouble” written on it on a chair, and coach kids to walk around it, giving themselves lots of space and looking back to see what the chair might be doing.

Some students worry, “What if the other person thinks I’m scared because I am leaving even if they are calling me names or threatening me?”

We show how the way you leave makes a big difference in how it looks to the other person. Scurrying away with our heads down makes us look like victims. Staring someone down as we leave looks as if we are being disrespectful. Walking briskly away with our heads up with a positive or neutral attitude makes us look as if we believe in ourselves.

Other students protest indignantly, “But it’s my right to stay! Why should I have to be the one to leave?”

We agree that often situations like this can seem unfair – and explain that our safety is more important than our feelings of the moment – and that knowing when and how to leave can prevent a large number of problems with people from getting bigger.

Think of all the harm that can be avoided if we all remember to “Turn Around – Don’t Drown!” when we notice potential trouble!

And please teach the skill of Target Denial to all of the important young people in your life! You can sign up as free community member to our online library to have access to this article and over 200 additional safety resources: The Courage NOT to Fight: Using Target Denial to Be Safe


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Published: August 25, 2016   |   Last Updated: August 25, 2016

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.